The disparity in obesity rates between Darwin and Katherine is reflective of a national divide between city and bush. (Supplied: Pexels)
Katherine has more people who are either overweight or obese than any other Australian town.
- Katherine has the second highest rate of obesity in Australia at over 43 per cent
- The town has the highest percentage of people who are either overweight or obese
- The proportion of Australian adults with obesity has risen 27 per cent in the past 10 years
The revelation comes from new statistics which also show nearly a third of Australians are now obese.
The data from the Australian Health Tracker, compiled by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, has drawn a clear link between obesity rates, levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and geographical isolation.
The study, which found obesity has risen 27 per cent across Australia in the past decade, has prompted renewed calls from experts for an overhaul of national health policy.
Katherine recorded the second highest rate of obesity in Australia at 43.3 per cent.
Of five NT locations included in the national data, Darwin was the only one to record a lower-than-average obesity rate (25.7 per cent) compared to the national average, which now sits at 31.3 per cent.
Katherine earned the unfavourable tag of being Australia’s most obese or overweight town with a rate of 77.8 per cent, ahead of four regional towns in NSW.
Palmerston (69.6 per cent), Alice Springs (67.3 per cent) and Litchfield (68.8 per cent) all recorded above-average rates of overweight or obese residents.
Perth recorded the lowest rate of overweight or obese residents with 47 per cent.
In Darwin, the rate of overweight or obese residents was 62.2 per cent.
‘This is a community facing serious health issues’
Rosemary Calder, a professor of health policy at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, said the statistics represented “a health crisis”.
Experts around the world are split on the best way to tackle obesity.
(ABC News: Emma Machan)
“There are real health risks in the Northern Territory that urgently need attention,” Professor Calder said.
“The crisis is the rate at which we are becoming obese, and therefore the higher risks that we face for preventable chronic disease.
“Now we have one in two Australians with one chronic disease, and we have almost a third with multiple chronic diseases … that’s not acceptable.”
Percentage of population obese in NT
- Katherine 43.4 per cent
- Alice Springs 34.3 per cent
- Palmerston 32.2 per cent
- Litchfield 30.7 per cent
- Darwin 25.7 per cent
Professor Calder said the stark difference between obesity rates in wealthy suburban areas and the bush demanded policy attention from all levels of government.
“We have created environments of low resources that make it much harder to make healthy choices,” she said.
“Indigenous communities need support around health that is tailored to the community’s characteristics.
“Our national approach, which is commonly one-size-is-expected-to-fit-all, doesn’t work for communities of disadvantage.
“We’re saying we need governments to become very smart about this … and to focus on creating healthy environments that will work in each community of risk.”
Nearly eight out of every 10 people in Katherine were recorded as overweight or obese. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
Mayor says data questionable
Katherine Mayor Fay Miller was sceptical of the data, which was taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“In Katherine we’ve got up to 5,000 people using our sports facilities every week, and that’s not bad considering the size of the town,” Ms Miller told ABC Darwin Breakfast.
“We’ve also got some amazing outdoor activities that happen constantly. I’m finding it really quite interesting they should have labelled Katherine the obese town of Australia.
“I don’t believe Katherine should have that title.”
Some towns across Australia — such as Queanbeyan and Dubbo — have initiated programs to encourage whole communities to participate in physical activity.
Before introducing any such initiatives to Katherine, Ms Miller said she needed to dig deeper into the data.
“This will certainly raise some discussions [in the community] … this is going to be quite an interesting conversation, and we’ll see how we can take it further,” she said.
Ms Miller identified the cost of healthy food compared to cheaper high-sugar alternatives as a problem in the region, and lamented the pervasiveness of high-sugar foods on supermarket shelves.
“As consumers we can be sucked in by the labels, thinking it was healthy food,” Ms Miller said.
“The whole industry needs to relook at itself, to encourage people to eat healthier, but to also provide it at a reasonable cost.”
Mr Gunner said the Government was “investing in Territory kids to make sure they grow up strong”. (ABC News: Bridget Judd)
The NT Government’s Acting Health Minister Michael Gunner said the Government was already providing staff and programs to combat obesity in the Katherine.
“NT Health has a public health nutritionist based in Katherine, which also services the broader region,” Mr Gunner said.
“There is also a dietician based at Katherine Hospital, and public nutrition outreach workers for NT Health servicing remote communities in the wider Katherine area.”
In Dubbo, sugar is ‘the devil’
Wellington, in regional NSW, is the only town with an obesity rate higher than Katherine’s — and its mayor is calling for action.
Ben Shields, the mayor of Dubbo Regional Council, which includes Wellington, is calling on the Federal Government to institute a sugar tax.
In Wellington, NSW, the obesity rate has reached 43.9 per cent. (Supplied: Signs of Australia)
“I’m a personal believer that sugar is the devil now,” he told ABC’s AM program.
“[Sugar] is something that puts a hell of a lot of weight on people.”
The Federal Government has previously rejected a sugar tax, but in a statement to AM a spokesperson for Health Minister Greg Hunt said a national obesity strategy would be presented to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) health minsters’ meeting in June next year.
Until then, Mr Shields is encouraging Wellington locals to sign up to his community’s new eight-week weight-loss regime Downsizing Dubbo.